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California cold case solved thanks to DNA taken from 1994 Washington sexual assault kit

For more than 35 years she was buried in a grave marked ‘Unidentified Female’.

And for more than 40 years, her alleged killer has been roaming free, an unidentified suspect in a brutal assault and strangulation at a South Lake Tahoe campground.

Now they both have names: the victim, Patricia Carnahan, and the accused killer, Harold Carpenter.

Carpenter’s arrest Wednesday by the El Dorado County District Attorney in the 1979 murder was the product of investigative genetic genealogy, with Washington state law enforcement comparing his DNA to a rape kit in a separate crime he allegedly committed with the DNA that was recovered from the scene of Carnahan’s murder. .

“DNA and genetic genealogy are a big deal,” said Vern Pierson, the district attorney.

Patricia Carnahan

(El Dorado County District Attorney)

Carpenter, 63, was accused of raping a woman in Washington in 1994. While no charges were ever filed, police took DNA from Carpenter, but it was never tested.

“He has not been accused of that. So his DNA sat in a warehouse for almost 30 years,” Pierson said.

With no connection between the two cases, California prosecutors were left to try to match the DNA from the unidentified woman’s body and crime scene to family tree databases such as 23andMe. They came close to solving the case in 2020 by interviewing Carpenter’s uncle, whose DNA closely matched that found at the crime scene, but the case remained cold and no arrests were made, Pierson said.

This year, the sexual assault kit from the 1994 case was tested as part of the Washington State Attorney General’s Office Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, which began in 2017 when the state received a $3 million federal grant. received to try to clear the backlog in the sexual assault kit.

While prosecutors in California have not charged Carpenter with sexually assaulting Carnahan, they said a sexual assault kit was taken, which provided them with the suspect’s DNA.

The DNA from the Washington case was uploaded to CODIS – the FBI’s national combined DNA index system – where it was linked to the Carnahan case.

“Cases like these illustrate the need to test every sexual assault kit and load their DNA profiles into the federal database,” Washington Atty. General Bob Ferguson said in a statement. “Any untested kit could be a potential breakthrough in a cold case.”

A plaque reading "Unknown female"

For more than 35 years, authorities did not know the identity of a 1979 murder victim in El Dorado County.

(El Dorado County District Attorney)

Carpenter’s arrest brought some relief to Carnahan’s daughter, who knew her mother had been missing for years but only learned she had been murdered in 2015.

Carnahan’s identity was discovered after the El Dorado County District Attorney’s cold case unit published photos of Carnahan’s jewelry in a Jewish newspaper, after realizing she was wearing a religious pendant when they exhumed her body in 2015.

Carnahan’s daughter got wind of the article, recognized the jewelry and contacted authorities. Genetic testing revealed that the long-unidentified murder victim was her mother.

Carpenter was arrested in Spokane, Washington, where he lived, and is being held at the Spokane County Jail, where he awaits extradition to California.